Genealogy and the Cornish Diaspora
Diaspora: “A noun from the Greek, diaspeirein, meaning to scatter; the movement, migration, or scattering of people away from an established or ancestral homeland.”
Last week the Cornish people were ‘officially’ recognized as a national minority in the United Kingdom under the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. As the culmination of more than 15 years of effort by a great many people, including John Angarrack and Mike Chappell, Convener of the Cornish Branch of The Celtic League, this is indeed significant and wonderful news for those of us who work on our Cornish genealogy and family histories.
Not only does this significant recognition of the uniqueness of Cornish heritage mean long overdue protections and rights for the Cornish and our Cornish heritage, but it also impacts us as genealogists and family historians.
This recognition of the Cornish occurred at the same time I was being asked to write several genealogy-focused articles for the 2014 midsummer historic celebration of the Feast of St. John, Mazey Day, Golowan festival in Penzance, Cornwall. My articles each focus on one Cornishman or Cornishwoman and their participation in the diaspora. The more I wrote and the more I researched the more I realized the incredible impact the Cornish diaspora has on our genealogy.
As a result, I am undertaking a series of posts here at Onward To Our Past® on the history of the Cornish diaspora and some of the effects and impacts that it has on our genealogy.
A Bit of History on the Cornish diaspora from Cornwall
In the 18th and 19th centuries, primarily c1815-1930, there was a very significant Cornish diaspora (often referred to as The Great Migration) when it is estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 Cornish migrated to other parts of the United Kingdom as well as Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. Just about 20% of the adult male population of Cornwall left in the diaspora every decade from 1861 to 1901. The cause of this mass migration was primarily economic based on many of the tin and copper lodes being exhausted, various collapses in the markets for tin, copper, slate, and china clay, and the growing demand for mining expertise abroad since the Cornish mining industry at the time possessed the very best contemporary mining know-how in the world. So about now you might be asking: What impact does this have on me when I am researching my Cornish genealogy?
Diasporic effects on Cornish genealogy research: Focusing on the United States
I am going to focus here on the Cornish diaspora in the United States. There are some wonderful experts in the field who know far more than I do about the Cornish and their relocation to other nations, such as Jean Charman for Mexico and others.
You might call any diaspora something akin to chain migration on steroids. In the case of the Cornish, this is certainly true given the numbers of Cornishmen and women who left their homeland. The more we study the diaspora the more we can be helped in our genealogy work. It can help us identify likely communities that might have attracted Cornish immigrants and give us clues to follow there.
Cornishmen and holes in the earth
If you have any Cornish blood or if you have Cornish branches in your family tree, you are most likely familiar with the adage often repeated to me by my paternal grandfather “Gramps Phillipps”: “If there is a hole anywhere on earth, you’re sure to find a Cornishman at the bottom of it.” Prized for their knowledge, familiarity with the most modern of mining techniques and machinery, work ethic, and while being immigrants, speaking English as their first language, Cornish miners were highly sought after by most anyone digging any holes in the earth in North America.
Let me give you one example, which at first seemed to hold a series of random and to me illogical locations in it. However, when matched up with knowledge of the Cornish diaspora became clear and logical.
Initially I was working on the genealogy of a pair of Cornish ancestors who happened to be twins. Their names were Elijah and Elisha Poad. Born in St. Blazey, Cornwall they were tin miners who joined the diaspora and immigrated to the United States. The 1860 U.S. Census, the first after they arrived in the States, has the twins living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in Rockland Township, hard on the shores of Lake Superior. Then in 1870 and 1880 they are living in Linden, a town in the far southwestern quadrant of Wisconsin along with a third brother, Samuel and their sister, Mary. Then in 1900 and 1910 (curse the loss of 1890, by the way) we find them out West in Anaconda, Montana.
I have to admit I found myself wondering if I was looking at the correct person moving, in those days, from the U.P. of Michigan to southern Wisconsin to Montana!
This same situation was evident when I was working on the genealogy of another ancestor, Thomas Phillips Allen. The first clue for Thomas was his passenger record with the note that he was heading to “Rofa, Yuma County, Arizona”. The next time we find Thomas he is in Ishpeming, Michigan. But once again I found myself wondering if I was trying to put to different Thomas Allens ‘together’ in my research.
Then I began to research the locations for each of these holes in the earth.
In my initial research on the Poad family I contacted the Michigan Historical Society (MHS) after finding two articles in their magazine, Michigan History, from 1928 and 1945. The MHS was more than helpful in extracting these articles from their archive and sending me copies. The first article was from the May, 1928 issue, titled “Cornish Miners of the Upper Peninsula” and was written by James E. Jopling of Marquette. The second was from March 1945, titled “Michigan’s Cornish People” and was written by Professor James Fisher of Houghton. These two articles began to put the mining history and history of Cornish immigrants in the U.P. into focus to me as well as to further familiarize me with mining place names across the U.P.
Shortly after this I connected with Jim Jewell, an author and historian from Wisconsin. Some years ago Jim wrote a book “Cornish in America: Linden, Wisconsin”. Now out of print for some time, I was delighted when Jim offered to share a ‘held back’ copy. What I found far exceeded my expectations. Not only is this 128 page book filled with excellent history and photos of Linden and its adjoining areas, but Jim does a very good job of including other related Cornish mining areas that some of the Cornishmen from Linden moved to. Jim even has a specific mention of the Cornish miners leaving the lead mines of Linden and heading out to the mines of Montana.
Following up on the Allen family, it didn’t take much research time for me to discover that ‘Rofa’ was actually an erroneous spelling for Kofa, a town in Yuma County, Arizona, which was made as an acronym for ‘King of Arizona’. The mine located in the town of Kofa at one time was the richest single gold mine in all of the southwestern United States, producing $465 million from 1896 to when it played out in 1910. Ahh, yes, 1910! This was the same time I had found Thomas Allen relocated to the U.P. and working the mines there. The ghost town, mine, and cemetery of Kofa have a marvelous history and there is a very good website by the Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project on Kofa Cemetery and area.
The Cornish diaspora and its impact on mining across the United States
Coming up next, I will be providing several in-depth articles on several of the historic mining centers across the United States and the role that the Cornish miners played as they spent their time at the top, bottom, and in-between those holes in the earth.